If a one-point loss is predictable, does it make it less heartbreaking?
To the rationalist, it's a question based on a false premise. Especially in the NBA, it's fairly well-accepted that luck is at least as important as skill in deciding close games, and the data suggests that even great teams don't systematically win nail-biters at a high rate year after year.
Of course, someone needs to tell the Mavericks and Bucks about all that. While the Mavs have now won an NBA-record ten consecutive one-point games, the Bucks' tough luck in close games continues to pile up. Which is a shame, because for the second straight game the Bucks looked nearly unstoppable on offense, drilling 53% of their field goals, half their threes (9/18) and, get ready for this, made more free throws than the Mavs. The problem of course was that Dallas wasn't so bad at the whole offensive thing either, making 51% of their field goals, 56% of their threes and missing just once in 17 attempts from the line. At least on offense they very much looked the part of a team that won by 50 points in their last outing.
In the middle of it all was Andrew Bogut, who made his first nine shots en route to a ridiculously efficient career-high of 32 points on 13/14 from the field. Bogut got plenty of help from the resurgent Carlos Delfino (22 points, six rebs, five ast) but Dirk Nowitzki (28 pts) and Jason Terry (21) matched them shot for shot down the stretch. At one point Nowitzki was 5/17 from the field, but the Bucks had little answer for him down the stretch as he made 6/8 from the field and allowed the Mavs to stay ahead throughout the final period.
Remarkably, the game had few big runs; the Mavs led early but could never shake the visitors, as Bogut and Delfino were essentially automatic all night. Delfino hit two huge threes in the final minutes, the last one coming from about 30 feet out with the shot clock runing down to bring the Bucks within one with 27.6 second left.
The Bucks opted to defend rather than send the Mavs to the line, and predictably the Mavs went to Nowitzki to try to seal it. But unlike the last time these teams met, the Mavs' superstar was expertly bottled up by Luc Mbah a Moute in the high post, forcing a turnover that gave the Bucks the ball and a chance to win. The down side? The Bucks had just three seconds left on the clock by the time they recovered the loose ball and called time out. With Delfino having the hot hand, they justifiably ran a play for him out of the time out, and catching at the three point line he looked like he could have had a decent look on the catch-and-shoot. But instead he opted to drive, finding Erick Dampier in his path to force a tough runner that caromed off the back iron.
Andrew Bogut: 37 min, 32 points, 13/14 fg, 6/8 ft, 9 rebs, 1 blk, 3 to
What made Bogut's monster night so impressive is that Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden didn't put up a particularly poor effort in man-to-man situations. Dampier appeared a bit slow to keep up with Bogut when facing up, but he didn't allow Bogut to pin him down deep in the paint. And aside from a few nice finds by Jennings and Ridnour, Bogut had to work for his buckets and put plenty of them in with a hand in his face. Heck, he even put in a fadeaway baseliner in over Gooden at the end of the first. And when the Mavs started fouling him in the second half he made a respectable 6/8 from the strip. Yep, it was one of those nights.
What you could criticize the Mavericks for was their hesitation to double Bogut and only half-hearted attempts to deny him the ball in the first place. Fronting Bogut or playing zone is generally the best way to take the big man out of the game, but perhaps because of the Bucks' hot shooting the Mavs seemed wary of leaving shooters.
Carlos Delfino: 38 min, 22 points, 8/12 fg, 4/5 threes, 6 rebs, 5 ast, 2 to
Once again Delfino had the whole package working, slashing to hoop and drilling bombs with equal ease. More on him below.
Luke Ridnour: 28 min, 11 pts, 4/11 fg, 1/1 threes, 2/2 ft, 6 ast, 1 to
Ridnour wasn't quite as hot as we're used to (below 50%???), but as usual he was the catalyst for the second unit before finishing the game next to Jennings in the backcourt. As per usual, some big jumpers down the stretch to keep the Bucks in it.
10. As we mentioned, the Mavs have now won an incredible 10 straight one-point contests, with two of those coming against the Bucks.
90%. Following his 5/6 night against Minnesota, Bogut's incredible 13/14 night means he's no made 90% of his field goals over the past two games. That brings his season fg% up to 52.1%, well above the career-low 49.1% he was at just a couple weeks ago.
-4. The Mavs aren't a good rebounding team, so if you have been trying to predict the Bucks' blueprint for winning it would likely have involved dominating the boards and creating enough chances to overcome their typical lack of shooting accuracy. Instead, the Bucks shot exceptionally well for the second straight game, only to be beatn 36-32 on the boards and 9-8 on the offensive glass. Not a huge differential by any means, but in a one point game it doesn't have to be.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Bogut's career-high brings his averages for the month to 17.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.7 bpg and 57.5%/72.7% shooting. Maybe now the guy can get a sniff of consideration for an all-star reserve spot? I mean, if Al Horford, David Lee, Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez can all get mentioned, why the heck can't Bogut?
And yes, Bogut's hitting over 70% of his freebies this month...and I've now totally jinxed him. That brings his season ft% to 62.8%, a tenth of a percent less than his rookie mark of 62.9%--which is still his career high. He also hit 70% or better of his throws in February of 2006 and February and December of 2008.
Count Chocula. Seriously, what's gotten into Delfino of late? In the past six games he's cracked 22+ points four times, twice hit double-digit rebounds, and has averaged nearly four dimes per game to boot. In the past two? He's shot 17/23 from the field including 8/11 from downtown--good for a 91% eFG% that not even Bogut and his paltry 90% can match. There's no way he keeps it up, but as a frequent critic of Delfino's overdribbling and penchant for 28-foot threes, I certainly owe Carlos his due. Well done, sir.
Being There. When facing a very good team on the road, there's not much more you can ask for (from the Bucks at least) than to keep it close and hope you make more plays down the stretch. Sadly "keeping it close" has mostly become synonymous with "losing in agonizing fashion," but it speaks to the consistent effort and professionalism of the team that they keep giving themselves chances to win tough road games.
Closing out. I think we've already beaten this one to death, haven't we? The Bucks are now 3-9 in games decided by three points or less and have yet to register what I would describe as a quality road win. Of the five teams they've beaten away from the BC, only Memphis is even vaguely respectable. Give the Bucks credit for consistently beating up on bad teams, but at some point you have steal some.
Falling off. Yet another Bucks road loss and a Chicago win in San Antonio moves the Bulls 3.0 games up in the battle for the final Eastern playoff spot.
Jennings' last three quarters. It was a promising start for the rook, as he buried three mid-range jumpers to start the game 3/3 (foolishly, I got excited in the game thread). Three misses were then atoned for with an open three, giving him nine points on 4/7 shooting after a quarter. But the final three quarters proved to be lean times for Jennings, as he made just 1/9 fg (a rare and-one runner in the paint in the third), including a couple key misses in the final minutes. He made up for it with some nice distribution (7 ast, 1 to), but 5/16 shooting just isn't something you can feel good about. Fortunately the Bucks have been able to play Ridnour next to Jennings late in games, but on nights like these you can't help but second-guess the Bucks' willingness to keep the ball in the rookie's hands so much down the stretch.